- Recognisable ( as by me)
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
I'm a bit late to reply to your posts (is your tea cold? Go make a fresh cup... I'll wait....)
But that is no reflection on how much I appreciated your response to my artistic angst. And in the meantime, while I was thinking about what you said, you had your own revelation (with help from Dennis) so I am lead to this conclusion:
It is hard to see our own voice in our work with our noses pressed up against it -- but it's there and apparent to others.
Perhaps we should print that out and post it on the walls of our respective work spaces. Really, I suppose the point is to relax and do what we love and our voice emerges. But you have no idea how much I appreciate your specifying what you see in my pieces that reflect my voice. And you have mentioned some of the things that really do float around the back of my mind as I am thinking about what to do for a challenge or a piece I'm working on. (And thank you for reminding me about Kaffe Fassett being drawn to my quilts. It still makes me very happy when I remember that!)
I like working with subject matter that is ordinary and humble. My choice of dandelion as our first 12x12 theme was clearly motivated by that. There's something about finding some meaning in items that people tend to overlook that appeals to me.
I like looking at things up close. I'm more specifically aware of that in the photos I take -- and how much I love using my macro lens. Honing in on some part of some small thing to notice its beauty or elegant shape or interesting texture is something I keep in mind when I'm taking photographs. How silly that I don't specifically think of that with quilt making, but clearly that same impulse is there. The photo above, which I took this week noticing my paint pan sitting on my desk, is an example of that.)
And I love texture and pattern that comes from translating an image into fabric.
It is intriguing to me that you respond in terms of story. It's not something I think about at all, in viewing or in making pieces. And I think I should -- not as in "I am doing something wrong if I don't" sort of should, but in I think it might add to my own understanding of why I've been moved to do what I'm doing.
I also was struck by something I read in the Quilt National 2011 book. One of the jurors (I have just looked -- it was Eleanor McCain in her Juror's Statement) talking about what she looked for in pieces as she was jurying them for the exhibit, asked "What about these works of art demands that they be formed from cloth and thread? Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium? What in the quilt form is important to the art?" Is that something you have thought abouyt as you've been making your pieces? I must admit that I've never consciously thought about those questions, or linked the medium to the art content with that linear of a thought. I'm aware of texture and pattern and developing both of those through the choices I make along the way -- but WHY is this a quilt as opposed to something else seems like it's worth consideration.
I have written about this before on my own blog, I think, but I read about an artist in another medium who keeps a list of seven adjectives posted in large print on her studio wall. They are the words that describe what she wants her work to be, and when she is working on a piece, she runs through the list to check that what she's doing hits all of her "targets."
I have often thought about what my list would be, but (as is typical) I get distracted and wander off to something else before I finish my list. So that will be my task for the week.
In any event, thank you pointing me back to myself.
And as for your most recent entry. Wow. I love the journal pages you've made and I suspect Nikki is very happy to know that providing you with that book spurred you to a creative burst like that. (See? Tell Dennis! The right journal CAN work wonders!)
Your beautiful pattern pages make me think, again, that there really IS something useful about that repetitive practice and trial that is at the heart of the City and Guilds process. Experimenting and sampling can lead to exciting discoveries and it need not be playing with fabric.
And it does rather demonstrate the truth that our own style/voice will emerge? You've been doing a repeating symbol all along and didn't even realize it.
I laughed at Dennis's reaction to the "mess" of paint and surface design work. In the sketching/watercolor class I've been doing, we had several weeks where we were supposed to apply various substances to pages as backgrounds for drawing and painting. And it felt like such a mess to me! I didn't like it much although it was interesting to see the different results. BUT when it comes to applying stuff to fabric? It doesn't seem like mess at all. So, apparently, for me it feels messy if I'm working on paper but it's art if it's fabric. Go figure.
If you had to come up with a list of seven words or phrases to serve as your "target" words for your art, what would they be?
I should note here that because of holidays and family things, I've not had a lot of studio time. I've drawn some eggplants to experiment working with purples in the watercolor class for the weekly assignment. I've pulled out my camera to capture the vibrant fall color in the yard.
But I'm starting to feel the pull toward something I started a few weeks ago, so getting that done is at the top of my fabric list.
How has the revelation that you actually DO have a repeating symbol affected your thinking about what you're doing this week?
Monday, 28 November 2011
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
In an attempt to reorder my day to get some time to write this I decided to come to work very early, get my prep out of the way then grab an hour to write. I am therefore currently sitting on the exact seat you sat on in the room which you declared to be hideous. No reader will know what I am talking about but I know you will! I shall shortly move to the dining room to consume a full english breakfast. I thought it important if we were going to talk about tomatoes that I had one infront of me at the time.
So, your crisis. Commenters have already made good points but I would add that maybe you are looking in the wrong place to try to find your true voice. There have been many, many good things about the Twelve by Twelve project but I am not sure that it has been an easy place to work on finding a voice or consistent style. The nature of the way we choose our themes is to pull you from one place to another. New series! New project! New idea! Each piece is a stand alone and so you are not easily going to find a cohesiveness developing there, unless it was in you already.
That said, let me remind you of a special event in your life. Even though you were not actually there when it happened. Remember when I was on the stand at Festival of Quilts and Kaffe Fassett told me that he really liked your quilts. He didn't say he liked just one. He picked out your body of work. Which to me implies that he saw something in all of them.Now I suppose it could have been something different in each one but thats unlikely. I think there is a developing underlying style and I see it in your photography too.
I think it is that you get up close to an object, look closely at it, often looking at only part of it ( like the tomato crate) or take a cross section. In many of your works the object you choose is imbued with a kind of pathos and meaning, often giving a feeling of loss, absence or a tale untold. I am thinking of all those photos you take of empty chairs. The one you took of the garden chairs at retreat for example which is shortly to go on my studio wall I love because those two empty chairs tell me the story of who sat in them one day at retreat, what we talked about in them and the implicit promise that we will one day return together to those empty and waiting chairs. For me, the John Lennon glasses has the same pull. The man is gone but the source of his vision remains and through them he continues to insipre from beyond the grave. ( Pause for spine chills).
Take Labikeet.... Gemma waits for her walk. Why is she waiting? Where is her owner? Will they come to get her?
I know in your theme series the ones that capitvated people most were the chinese lanterns ( again, a cropped picture with a hidden story. Where are they floating? What are they celebrating? That 's the one Kaffe said was the favourite of all 144 quilts) and the cave which physically drew people into it. They peered into it, their noses right up against it, as if to see who was hiding in it.
Not all your challenge quilts have that same quality but maybe thats part the nature of the challenge and part becuase you are in the process of developing a style where as maybe Deborah and Terry are further down that line. I think Deborah also consciously uses repeated symbols and shapes and materials where as you are more varied. I think thats just choice...do you want to narrow down that way or not?
I am glad you raised the issue though as I am in a similar position. Who am I? What am I trying to say? Even if I knew, do I yet have the ability to say it in a visual way? And would I even be satisfied with it if I did say it visually?
Now we are close to having our house refurbishments structurally complete and can start thinking about what art to put on the walls, Dennis is having a hard time comprehending how I can even casually talk about buying quilts made by other people. Why do that when I make them myself? Because, I try to explain, I never think mine are good enough because what I learn with each one is what I could try to do better next time. I don't want to put my practise on my lounge wall when I could have a proper piece of art up there. But, he asks, confused, you have sold quilts. Yeah, but the buyers don't know what is in my head to do next! I wonder whether Jette Clover and Miriam Pet Jacobs and the other artists whose work I have been imagining in my hallway feel the same?
What ever the answers I am glad I have you to travel the ponderous journey with. Now, If you will excuse me, I must go and blog about another art dillemma over on the Twelve by Twelve blog. Sheesh! It's awonder I ever actually get to even imagine making a quilt, the amount of brain space I have taken up by these internal debates!
Sunday, 13 November 2011
I think I am having an existential art crisis. Again. (Still.)
Because I know you love hearing about my crises (chipper smile here) I will elucidate.
I have had the good fortune to have seen two big art-filled quilt shows in the last 4 months. Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England in August. International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas just last weekend. Both shows were exciting, with enough eye candy to give someone a serious stomach ache.
I should be feeling eager to leap into stash of fabric and MAKE SOMETHING. But I'm not. Truthfully, I'm in the mood to nap and eat carbohydrates. Well, THAT's not that uncommon, but the urge is stronger than usual. Yep, I think I'm a bit overloaded. But here's the question that pops up: what would I make? What DO I make? What sort of quilting do I want to do? What is my style?
I know. You are shaking your head and laughing. You've heard this before. Just recently (the last post, even?) I was writing about how the important thing is to have fun, having a style or a recognizable body of work isn't important, blah blah blah. I believe that, actually.
But still. There I was in Houston, with people rushing over to our exhibit of 288 quilts and exclaiming how impressed they were, how delighted, how they loved seeing our creativity, etc. I started feeling like an impostor. As I walked around the entire show, I was paying attention to which of the quilts made me think some version of "that's what I want to be doing" or "I wish I could make work like that." At one point I got up and looked at all 24 sets of our quilts, looking specifically at my own pieces to attempt to find some sort of style or specific technique or any thing that would make me say, "There. THAT'S what I want to do more of and THAT'S what I want to be known for."
And yes, I do know that I said in that earlier post that I didn't care about being known. I don't really. BUT I want to have an idea in my own head of what I'm doing, you know? I'd even like to be able to have some general "look" that I'm aiming for. But I can't identify it.
I know I'm drawn to bold color, graphic design and imagery. I don't love photo-realistic work in fabric, but I'm drawn to the fabric collage illustrative stuff especially when it involves good use of fabric prints. I tend to prefer my own work flat and quilted -- the dimensional, embellished, or sparkly things don't interest me. But as I looked at my own work, I can't find a direction.
There's a bunch of illustrative/realistic pieces.
There are various abstract pieces ...
I did a fair amount of painting on fabric...
Actually, I LOVE those tomatoes. I'm really happy with how they turned out. I'd say that of everything I've made in the last year, that's the piece I feel best about.
But I think I'm feeling sort of depressed about not seeing anything that makes my work diffferent from anyone else's. How is this work MINE in a way that would make someone going through a show and seeing it think "of course that's Diane's" as opposed to "oh, there's another person doing THAT sort of thing...." Why couldn't these be anyone's tomatoes?
And I'd like to think I can find a direction to aim for -- not "I want to do work like Nancy Crow" or "I want to be like Ruth McDowell," but some glimmer of "THAT's the type of work I want to explore and make mine" would be nice.
One of the things that I admire about various quilty friends of ours -- Deborah and Terry come to mind -- is that their work is THEIRS. You know it when you see it. And they don't just do the same things over and over again.
Maybe this comes back to the very ideas we started with -- picking something, working in a series to explore different angles of it, and just seeing where it goes, finding what yields satisfying work, discovering what produces work that I'm proud of.
It's not about technique and which to use. It's about wondering what it is I'm saying with the fabric art I'm doing. At the moment, I'm feeling disturbed that I don't feel like I'm saying anything, and I don't know where I'm going.
Maybe I'll go have a piece of sourdough french bread.
Sunday, 30 October 2011
It is Sunday night, and I thought I would take this quiet time to reply to your post from this week. I do not have a hot beverage at hand -- just a bottle of bubbly water, fizzing quietly at my side. The week promises to be rather busy as I leave for the quilt festival in Houston on Wednesday and don't return until Monday. The next two days are for laundry and packing and general preparations so I don't leave the household in a mess.
I have actually sewn a lot this week, working on a gift project that I can't show. But it was another good example of how having an externally-imposed need to create something, along with a specific deadline, prodded me into doing something I wouldn't have otherwise done. And, I might add, I am quite pleased with the result. So that has been rather productive and enjoyable and I have the very nice sense of anticipation of having made a gift I hope the recipient will like as much as I do.
The sketching and watercolor on mixed media class continues -- we are in week 4. Last week, we were instructed to do various backgrounds for pages trying different methods. I found it very unsatisfying, just randomly creating backgrounds without any plan or reason to do them. This week, we are to put content on the pages, which is in part (I guess) about suiting subject to an existing texture/color/pattern, and also about learning what happens when you draw and paint on gesso, or absorbent ground, or collaged papers. (Or, to be honest, maybe it's not designed for any purpose other than this is another thing this teacher does and she's having us give it a try too.) I have come to the conclusion that I like my watercolors in pure form -- straight onto paper, and the mixed media aspect isn't doing too much for me yet. What I've put above was a very fast page I did earlier today, loosely sketching the tools on my worktable. You can see I'm not going for precision! My goal for this experience is to just enjoy the process, develop the habit of doing a bit of sketching and painting every day, and loosening up so the drawings have some personality. So far the wonkiness I achieve has less to do with personality and more to do with lack of skills -- but maybe they will overlap?!
But that leads back to your comments about teachers and classes. You were differentiating between teachers and classes that teach you how to do a specific thing: replicate a quilt, make a book like so-and-so's... and I agree, I have no interest in that in terms of "I want to make THAT EXACT THING TOO." But you know? A lot of people like that sort of class. They don't want to think, they don't want to design, they want to make THAT. Just like that. My sister in her needlework business encounters that all of the time. She doesn't sell "kits" per se with patterns and colors all put together -- she sells patterns separately so people can choose their own colors. I've worked in her booth scads of times and most people just want to make the thing JUST LIKE the picture, without choosing their own colors are doing anything individual along the way. So clearly, there's a market. Those are the people who buy Magie's kits, yes? And it's wonderful that there are designers like you and my sister who can make work people want to replicate. But there are a lot of people out there like us, I think, who want something very different.
And then there are technique classes -- and while many of them focus on a specific project, I can see that it makes sense to learn a new technique in the context of a project that is going to expose you to the technique's different issues. I think a good teacher can choose a project (or a variety of them for students to choose from) that will present appropriate experiences for the student to master the technique. If one is interested in learning a new technique, I think that sort of class can be very useful.
I totally agree that the best sort of class is one in which you are encouraged or get the opportunity to take what the teacher is teaching and then apply it in a personal way. I think the best teachers are ones who can teach what they know, but who welcome and inspire the ability for a student to use that knowledge in the student's personal, individual way. But I have come to the conclusion that THAT is a very specific teaching gift, and many teachers don't have that. Sue Benner and Patti Hawkins are two art quilt teachers who, to my experience, demonstrate the BEST of that sort of teaching -- they know they are providing tools and a way of thinking about how to use the tools, and they have the talent for helping each student move in her own direction with those tools.
It's actually my observation that in the quilt/fiber art world, there are a lot of teachers who don't teach so much as demonstrate something they've made, and then students repeat it in their presence. They don't teach the ideas behind what they're doing, necessarily, or the art principles that underly the process... they just say "I do THIS, and then I do THAT, and I use these materials" and students are then expected to scurry off and do that, too. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I'm not sure it's teaching so much as demonstrating what they do, if you know what I mean. I find that frustrating when I want to know more. And, given that you and I are alike in this way, you know that I generally do what to know more. I want to know why THAT, and why not the other. I guess it's that left brain kicking in.
Yes, I did see the discussion on the SAQA list about art school vs self-learning. Interesting but again struck me as another issue which some people take way too seriously. It did not seem to me accidental that the most vociferous ones were arguing for the very education they themselves had gotten -- again, not so much an endorsement of their specific education as a demonstration of how invested they were in their own course of action. Which is not a bad thing! I also thought that so much of the discussion had to do with how much self-confidence people had, too.
At any rate, I may be biased on this myself as I've had no formal art training either. I'm not in a position to really compare whether having been art school-taught or self-taught is better. BUT my continuing education as a home-schooling mom of a kid with quirky learning styles has made me study and think about the education process a lot, and here are some of my conclusions. People learn things differently. Dramatically differently. Some people need to hear them, some need to see them, some need to experience them. Some people don't have the discipline or motivation to propel their own education in a subject, while others chafe at externally imposed strictures and want to follow their own paths. So I can see that for some people, the structure and external validation of an accredited art school may seem like the only way, or the best way, to go.
Others may get as good an education or a better one by learning on their own. I happen to think that the process of choosing what needs to be learned, and why, is as valuable as the learning of the substance itself. To design your own program requires that you identify what skills you need to learn, what history you need to understand, etc -- and that learning, before you even dive into the actual curriculum, is as valuable as the content. In a school situation, that's all done for you, and you're going on faith (or relying on the school/teacher's experience) that they will teach you what you need to know. (It's one of the reasons I'm finding homeschooling rewarding for ME in a way I never anticipated -- I'm learning so much as I sort out what Caroline should learn, and think about WHY various things are or are not important.)
But really, I suspect that the important factors in getting an education in art have more to do with getting a good breadth of knowledge, good technical skills, doing a lot of practice, getting feedback from some independent source, and having a strong motivation to keep going. Probably being part of a community of others doing and discussing the same things is important too. But whether that happens through self-direction or a structured school program, I'm not sure it matters.
I never did remember to say that I quite liked your journal sketches, by the way. I guess what's important is whether you enjoyed doing them and whether it felt like a useful/fun way to record aspects of your trip. Are you still working on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain?
I won't post here until after I've returned from Houston. You know you will be on my mind frequently (and I will try to keep my phone charged and handy for frequent pictures to you). I'll be interested to see whether it is as creatively inspirational as FoQ was. I am looking forward to seeing the Twelves, of course, and experiencing people seeing our quilts which is a huge boost on a lot of levels ... but I am most looking forward to the special exhibits like SAQA and Dinner at Eight artists and the like. I wonder what creative thoughts all of that will yield?
I know you are very busy getting your studio together. Do you think having a studio will change your creative process? Will it affect your ideas, do you think? How do you think it will change the way you work?
Friday, 28 October 2011
Well, at last I have time to do justice to your last two posts in my reply. This is a sneaky lunchtime blog entry. I have recently started to try to dedicate two lunchtimes a week to creativity. The constrains of location, and my current lack of easily portable projects, prevent any actual creativity to any meaningful degree but it is useful to me to try to carve time out for reading or writing or even just thinking about creative matters. This is Friday and the first time this week I have managed it due to having a work experience student to look after. So today's tea, over which I talk, is a mug at my desk. I cannot show you the room it is being consumed in because that would actually be a criminal offence but I think I am safe in showing you my mug!
Nor can I show you the cake because I ate it. But it was my homemade lime drizzle cake and it was yummy.
So, lets try to get down all the interesting (to me at least) thoughts swirling around in my head that you have provoked. Going back two posts where we were talking about linear progression down a goal orientated path versus meandering down every side path as the whim takes you, my view is that - as with most things in life - a happy medium is about right. For me at least. A compromise between Puritanical strict discipline and a productiveless wild abandon is probably best.
You raised two questions namely, 'Why do I do what I do?' and 'How do I define success?' I realised that the answer to the first question is probably: because I want to. When I have leisure time ( I am sure that happened a few weeks ago for a little while) I can do anything legal and affordable I want to do. Sometimes I read, sometimes I journal. I enjoy doing yoga and I like to bake cakes. And a lot of the time I make quilts. I never sit around anaylsing why I read or do yoga rather than pilates or football. I never debate why I make cakes and bread rather than planting flowers in the garden. I just like doing that stuff.
I once asked the six or seven year old daughter of a friend why did she like horses so much? She shrugged and said, "Because God made me that way."
The trouble is that God also made me to like plannning and organising and to strive for success. And society made me feel like I was never quite good enough. Which leads to a sort of crashing self-sabotage process in which I spend a lot of time pondering whether I am planning in the best way and whether I am defining success correctly and not actually just doing the stuff that makes me happy because it makes me happy. (See by way of example, the folder on my ipad labelled 'Spare Apps'. It contains a not inconsiderable number of apps for strategic planning, task lists, reminders, time recording, habit tracking etc, which I do not use because I have yet more apps that do the same tasks but better. And I still wonder if actually, my hot pink filofax might not be a more instinctive tool. And now of course with icloud all the apps I do use synch wi-fi-ly with all my other devices leaving me to ponder which of the devices are best suited to the task I wish to do. On the desk I cannot photograph for you are, working from left to right, my mobile phone which is operating as a wifi hotspot for both the ipod which is plugged into the laptop, on which I am actually typing ( and which has two screens), and also for the ipad on which I am reading your previous posts. The hot pink filofax is at home because it was deemed too heavy to cart about all the time, but I miss it.)
So for me the process is like you more important than the product. But is not just the process of aimless experimentation. That irritates the heck out of me. I like to know why I am doing something and where it is hoped to lead me. Then within that context I am happy to meander and see if there is a sort cut or a longer more pretty route to my destination. And I am not above ditching the destinations becuase actually, the place I found by accident is better. But I need to start with a destination in mind. Its like my obessive travel planning I suppose. All planned out in advance with planned gaps in the schedule for improvisation! So my question is not so much Why do I do what I do? but rather What am I doing this for? I can see that those look like restatements of the same thing but actually I think the emphasis is different. Less on motivation more on the proposed outcome even though the proposed outcome may be the satisfaction of an internal motivation rather than an external stimulus. Although an extrnal stimulus is equally acceptable
(Oh look, there is an eavesdropper over there rolling her eyes and muttering about lawyers speaking gobbedly gook. Huh. I know what I mean! I mean, I need to know that I am doing it either to see if I can make a quilt that tells the story of a Rwandan massacre - internal motivation - or so that I have a new kit that Magie can sell at the African Fabric Shop - external stimulus sort of, but really as I only do the kits because it gives me pleasure to support Magie and to get a repeatable design out of a limited set of fabrics, its more internal. I don't like to do it with no ascertainable goal all in sight. Oh heck, maybe I am speaking gobbedly gook now.)
My Grandma frequently used to say, " A little bit of what you fancy does you good." Generally speaking I think this is good life advice. (I say 'generally' because she was once heard to say just that whilst stuffing cream meringues into her mouth not long after having been diagnosed with diabetes and I am not sure if the motto applied too well that day!). So I think for me a bit of planning, a bit of philosophical musings about popular psychology on creativity, a bit of meandering from time to time, a bit of goal setting ... its all about compromise. Maybe its about a safe framework in which to meander.
You also asked, 'What makes a good teacher?' 'What can a teacher do to inspire/ help you?'
Well, I do not think teachers who set simple tasks then praise all students with nothing further are good teachers. I think a teacher that would be good for me is one who enables a student to see a whole other way of viewing a topic or opens up to them a whole new world of possibilties that excites them and then gives enough information to equip that student to go and explore that world independantly. So project based classes? Too prescriptive for me, although I have been in classes with teachers who were very good at teaching how to replicate their class quilt. But not for me. ( I rebel).
The class needs to all tie together for me too. I need to know where it is meant to take me. I once did a two day workshop on art techniques for textile work. (Thats not what it was called but to protect the not so innocent I will not give the class title). We spent two days moving from one technique for using art materials to get a 'design starter' to another. But that class wholly failed to explain how the resultant squiggles and splashes of various media related to textile art. They maye have inspired the teacher and it may have been obvious to her but she failed to communicate her thought processes to me at least ( and got politely exasperated with me when I pressed for her to try to do so).
The alternative good teacher to me is one that says she is going to teach you a set technique or a set collection of pieces of information and then does so clearly and precisely without limiting your sense of how you could use that information. The only teacher in the context of textiles who I have come in touch with and who gets five stars from me for that type of class is Claire Benn of Committed to Cloth. Two years ago at festival I just happened to be near her stand when she started to do a screen printing demonstration. Best class at that show ever. No frills, no patronising, no waffle. Just a stream of clear concise, information, demonstrated visually as she went along adding nothing unneeded, leaving out nothing essential and done in a commanding but approachable tone that left you in no doubt she was an expert and the information was good. Superb. I recommend her books with DVDs for the same reason. Actually I think you bought some at festival didn't you? How did you find them?
A good teacher should enable a student to take the material into something different than that which the teacher is doing but to at least the same standard. So if I may use the example of the comment on your sketchbook course and the reply you gave: a course that would teach me to produce pages like Jane La Fazio. Not interested. A class that used Jane La Fazio pages as examples to give me a blinding understanding of why life without art journalling is a lesser life. For me. Sadly I think that there is a market that perpetuates the 'do- this- and-then-do- that-and -oh -well-done-you-made-a-replica-work' type of teaching which does not require real teaching skills so much as good technique skills and an abilty to pass them on. A good teacher will change the course of a students life even if just by a little bit. (Hmmm. I wrote that and thought: Oh come on, delete that, thats really pretentious. But on reflection I think its true. So I am leaving it in and sticking my neck out!)
This leads me to bring up another kind of related question for you. On the SAQA yahoo group ( do you read that?) I have been involved in a discussion about art degrees. I will not describe the whole debate but suffice it to say that it is about whether an art degree is necessary to be a 'successful artist' ( and you will note I have so far avoided actually answering the question. "what is success?") or whether it is possible to teach the same material to yourself. Despite having had an qualifcation-seeking addiction in the past I am in the autodidact camp. If only because I like that word. And despite the fact that the debate nearly caused a relapse when I read the undergraduate introduction page for Yale Collage and reaslied that they would let me build a degree that allowed me to do Art History and Zulu classes together and postively encouraged me not to close my mind to adding in a bit of African Amercian studies for good measure after which I could do a quilt related independent study project. See - thats my kind of meadering - all around the actually quite enclosed field that is african inspired textile art.
Anyway, I have been convinced (and lets face it, I was hardly trying to resist) that it is a good idea to educate myself on the type of topics one might do if one went to art school. Which in its self is huge fun. Not only will that involve researching art school prospectuses and searching Amazon for related books, it means I can then plan out a selt-taught curriculum for myself. And, better still, I can use my best Ipad apps to plan a time to do that planning. I am in heaven. So here are my questions for you:
Do you think fornal art education is necessary to be a recognised artist. ( I know that is not your definition of success but as it was the one I think most common to those in the debate I shall adopt it for this discussion)
And from your knowledge gained as a homeschooling parent, what is optimal : studying one topic at a time in depth, two of three in parallel or dipping in here there and everywhere into a huge pile of books with no plan?
Oh. is that question not where I came in?
Sunday, 23 October 2011
I had a lovely time browsing around a wonderful used bookstore, it's one of those places where books are wedged in at every angle and the cashier's desk is surrounded by more piles. I have found wonderful treasures there. Today, the Great Find was a beautiful book on animal anatomy for artists which will be under the tree for Caroline at Christmas. Shhh, don't tell her.
You haven posted here in a bit but I know you've been traveling and then returned to work and home and studio renovation ... So, knowing full well how life sometimes gets in the way of blogging, I am forging ahead. I do hope at some point that you'll reply to the post I did last time, about creative process. I'm interested to hear what you think.
But I should get back to the subject of creativity and show you what I have been doing.
This is the 12-inch quilt I made as my entry to Midsomer Quilting's fruit challenge. I've not used this technique for a long time (since my Labikeet portrait of Gemma for Twelve by Twelve, I think.). I enjoyed it tremendously and infound myself thinking of the fabric as paints. That is something fiber people say at times and I've understood the analogy, but I've never really had that specific sense while I was working. Maybe the connection felt more immediate because I am doing a bot of drawing and painting each day.
And speaking of that, I am still surprised by how very much I am loving the process of drawing and painting, I'm reminded of how much I liked playing with watercolors when I took some classes years ago. This past week, our assignment was to choose something from nature, draw and paint it, and then develop some stylized designs inspired by our work with the subject. It was very fun -- and you know, I felt immediately gratified because my usual sketchbook style is drawing lots of stylized designs, one leading to the next to see how many design ideas one inspiration can spawn. I had a brand time with this and here are some of the pages I did:
In fact, I liked this assignment so much I had a hard time moving on to this week's assignment which is to paint backgrounds for new pages using various media. I find the process of just making a background, without making it in the context of what is is for, to be rather boring. But in the interests of learning and trusting the course process, I have been good and done a bunch of different backgrounds. We'll see where they go.
This leads me to a new question: when you take a class, what can a teacher do that inspires you or helps you? What makes a good teacher for creative pursuits, I guess is what I'm asking. I have various thoughts and this online workshop has got me thinking because I'm somewhat disappointed at the instruction that is not happening. But I'm wondering whether some people most like to be left alone with no feedback but lots of "yay! Keep going" sorts of encouragement. Maybe I'm unusual in wanting to be told what isn't right and could be better?
I'll go now and look forward to your update.
And I think you are absolutely right about needing a non -creating break. I did do a lttle bit of sewing when I was away but I have given up for probably the next fortnight or so. The main creative activity right now is constantly redeisgning where the storage in my studio to be as the builder tells me that when he said, yes he could build what I originally designed, that he actually meant, oh, I didn't understand. no I can't build it like that because it has no support and will fall apart. The trouble is that he cares about the Building Inspector passing the joints and the walls and I care about how wide my cutting table can be and where my thread jars will fit!
At the minute it looks like this still
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
But it sounds like you are having a lovely retreat in Bath. You mentioned that you are not being as productive as you'd hoped, but I remind you that sometimes a rest is necessary for productive creativity to take place. You've had an intensely creative several months (what with our Birmingham adventure and the work you've produced and designing your studio and drawing and all) and I think your inner self is telling you that you need a break. I always hit what I think of as fallow periods where all I really want to do is read and leaf mindlessly through magazines and watch movies on TV ... and I have come to think of them as necessary, and in fact, vital resting places for the creative side of my brain. It's not wasted time. It's part of that introspective phase of creativity, where your subconscious can work while you put your conscious brain on auto-pilot.
And if you're doing auto-pilot while floating in thermal pools at a spa and lingering over tea and scones, so much the better.
But back to the retreat. It was a lovely time, as I'm sure you can imagine. I have learned not to work on anything in that setting that requires significant creative decision making, as I'm too engaged and distracted by chatting with friends and soaking up the general air of creative excitement.
Here is one of the things I worked on -- what will be a large piece in my topographical map series. It's a reverse applique process and although you can't see them here in this shot, there are lots of sewn lines and I'm in the process of cutting away layers of fabric to reveal different layers beneath. It's a phase of somewhat tedious work but it's enjoyable and there's a sense of mystery and discovery, as I can't predict what things will look like exactly as the patterns and color splotches on the hand-dyed and batik fabrics reveal themselves in different ways.
Here is another thing I worked on at the retreat -- I pieced all of these small blocks (4.5 inches each) on the first day in a bout of improvisational piecing. I sure enjoyed making these blocks and found that I got lots of ideas for bigger designs from the serendipity of the small pieces going together. I've gotten all of the blocks assembled and have ideas for borders and stitching . I consider this another adventure in just diving in with no sense of plan or imagined image. I don't usually work this spontaneously but I sure had fun doing it.
You mentioned those Danny Gregory books. I like those a lot. And it sound like using those and trying out his style of illustrated journal keeping has confirmed for you what your own journal style is. That's a very good discovery!
I mentioned that I'd signed up for an online class (through the Joggles.com site) with Jane Lafazio on sketching and watercolor painting for mixed media journaling. What prompted me to do this had more to do with wanting to get into the habit of incorporating color (via pencil or watercolor) in my journals more. Like you, I'm drawn to beautiful illustrated journals but my goal isn't so much to start keeping one as it is to incorporate the practices into the type of journal keeping I already do.
So far, our week's task has been to draw everyday objects, and using loose watercolor to add color. I've been doing a small sketch/painting each day, and while I see that my skills need some work, I really like the meditative aspect of LOOKING at something and remembering to draw or paint what I SEE instead of what I THINK I see. This is harder to do than one would think.
For example, I worked with this bottle of wine yesterday (hey, we live in Wine Country. Wine is an every day object.)
And here's my first attempt at painting it:
I made the bottle green and the wine red, because that's what my brain told me the colors were. But look back at that bottle -- the wine isn't red, it's a blacky-red, tinted greenish by the green of the bottle.
So I went in some more and tried to darken everything without totally mucking things up and losing what few white highlights I had left. (Keeping white in watercolor is quite a challenge, I find.)
It should all really be darker, I know. But it felt like time to move on and maybe I'll tackle a wine bottle later to see if I can do it better. Anyway, this is proving to be a very good exercise in seeing.
And here's the first one I did -- a sketch/painting of a carved wooden mermaid that lives in my office with me. I just love her. But studying the lines and colors and shapes made me see aspects of the shape and texture and wood that I'd never noticed before. I have been thinking that making art is a particular state of mindfulness about the world, whether the art is representational or abstract.
I'm glad that seeing Alicia Merritt's exhibit sparked some ideas for you. I quite like her work (as you know, drawn as I am to map-inspired images) and I like how she infuses such glowing color into her work too. They are very graphic and striking compositions, but also immediately identifiable as maps. I love that. And I know what you mean about seeing a cohesive body of work -- it makes you realize the strength and possibility in focusing on a limited set of themes and motifs. As we've experienced in our 12x12 challenges, boundaries can really open creative doors.
But here is what I really want to address. You mentioned making decisions about what NOT to do, as much as what you want to be doing. I think setting a course, identifying what it is what excites you, and defining some goals are all very useful steps and important parts of sorting out what you are doing, what you want to be doing, and why you want to be doing it.
But. I will add some caveats that express my own philosophy about these matters, which are mine and don't necessarily apply to anyone else. I'm not preaching. Or suggesting they should apply to you. They are just my reactions. Okay?
Why I am doing what I am doing is probably the most important question to me when I try to sort out the issues I ponder around my creativity. And I know that I am not doing what I do to be a famous artist, or to sell work, or to make a name so people will hire me to lecture or teach. I know that I pursue what I pursue because it makes me happy, and because engaging in creative expression is as necessary to me as oxygen. Also, I've recognized that for me, the process is as important as the finished work -- that is, I'm nourished creatively by the process, even when it doesn't result in work I consider successful. I like trying new things, experimenting with new materials, and exploring different avenues. It's taken me some time to appreciate that for me, experimentation is one of my goals. I really don't need anyone to buy my art quilts or hire me to teach or give me ribbons in order to feel good about what I do. Sure, it feels nice when those things happen. But it doesn't define success for me in my own mind about my own work.
Of course, you've heard me worry that I don't have any identifiable style or that I haven't settled on one technique or process to define as Mine and use for all of my art. I wonder whether making myself march forward in a more linear way might result in greater growth.
But when I'm not wibbling with those pesky little insecurities, I realize that I truly do know down deep inside that for me, it's most useful to go with where my creative flow takes me. It's not a linear thing for me. I may pursue things that others might see as a distraction, and I may at times end up taking side-trips away from where I thought I wanted to go. And because I know that I do my art TO MAKE MYSELF HAPPY, first and foremost, I know that following where my impulses take me is better for me than fighting against those impulses. (I see this as vaguely related to a lesson learned long ago when a really great hairdresser I used to go to in Massachusetts talked to me about working WITH what my stick-straight hair does, as opposed to fighting against it with perms and curlers and such.) So when I approach the process as something I flow with rather than fight against, it not only makes me happier, I think it works out better in terms of the result. For me, the creative journey is the destination, if you know what I mean.
I think my attitude was shaped dramatically by experiences I had years ago, when I was very involved in the artist book world. I was obsessed with making artist books, and decided that I not only wanted to make and sell them, but I wanted to become known in that world. I showed my books in galleries and had stuff published in magazines and books. I set out to teach in the book world (when hardly anyone even knew what artist books were) and I accomplished that, getting invited to teach at a rather prestigious event. And you know what? It took the joy out of it for me, it truly did. I worked so hard at figuring out what people would want to see and what would be publishable or teachable, and then I had to make samples and all ... and it just stopped being fun. After that teaching job which felt like the pinnacle of achievement for me, I found I didn't want to make any more books. It wasn't the fact that I'd reached the goal that changed things; it was realizing that I'd veered away from focusing on what was fun for me to worrying about how to please others and making things to suit others' needs.
That's why I keep in mind the fact that my creative work is for my own pleasure. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'm very clear about that. I'm not averse to hard work, or encountering frustration as I problem-solve, or taking on creative challenges to overcome. But at the root of it all is the knowledge that I am doing this to increase the joy in my life. If it's not doing that (in a big picture sort of way), then I know I'm not on the right track.
I'm fortunate to have a professional career that earns me a good income and a family situation that means I don't have to work full-time. So art and creativity are, for me, about pleasing myself and keeping myself interested and challenged. If it takes me on a zig-zag exploration instead of a straight line to fame and fortune, I'm okay with that.
As an aside, I sometimes think there are others who really do see creativity as a Serious Business Indeed. For them, I guess, that's fine. And for those who want or need to make a living from their art, the pressures of having to produce and market and sell probably feel like serious matters. But some people manage to make the process of creativity and art seem like such a grim, intense, struggle -- or at least a subject of gravity and significance that doesn't seem to leave any room for humor or lightness. I wonder if it truly is that for them, or if they have some investment in making people THINK it's a grim, intense struggle so their work will seem more valuable? Or maybe they are just grim, tortured personalities who'd bring that to whatever they pursued? Who knows. But it makes me rather sad for them, to be honest, because I think that the core of creativity should have a rather large dollop of joy in it.
Which is not to say that I don't think it's useful to establish some goals and work toward them. Being responsible and exercising discipline can be important. Deadlines and externally or internally imposed restrictions can really spur creative thinking and accomplishment. But if along the way, you are fascinated by a new discovery, I don't think it's necessarily bad or wrong or undisciplined to explore it. It all comes back to the reason one is doing what one is doing. If you're making quilts because you're working toward a one-woman show of cohesive art, then maybe you need to buckle down and decide what the parameters of your show will be and then focus on doing the best work you can do. No problem. But me, right now? I'm in this for the journey. If I decide I want to think about tea and work on tea as inspiration, and somewhere along the way I see something that reminds me of a map thing I want to pursue, FOR ME it's okay to deviate from the tea and go play with maps for a bit. I know I'll get back to each subject. AND I believe strongly that everything you learn and do informs what you do thereafter. (Hah. Maybe there'll be a tea map somewhere that comes out of this.)
I read the "Why Keeping Your Options Open is a Really, Really Bad Idea" article that Brenda noted in her comment to your post. I agree generally that it's better to make a decision and act on it than it is to waffle along forever, never actually deciding. It's curious to me that the article is framed in terms of "the science of success" when really what it addresses is the psychological adaptation we do instinctively when we don't have any other choice. But again, does that enhance creativity? Or the joy in the creative process? I'm not sure. Just as indecision, the failure to commit, and inaction can be inhibiting, to my mind when it comes to creativity and art-making, rigidity and being closed to new discoveries seem counter-productive as well.
So I guess the trick is to know why you're doing what you're doing, to stay focused and disciplined enough to keep moving on the path (or paths) that allow you keep moving, but to simultaneously stay open and flexible so as not to lose the adventurous joy that can lead to discoveries that enhance your progress? Pah. Easy-peasy. :-)
I remind you that I'm expressing my own philosophy for my own work. And maybe it explains why I don't have a cohesive body of work on one theme or another. But I do what I love, and in my view that's the way to be successful. Twelve by Twelve seems like the ultimate example of how doing something for our own joy and amusement and satisfaction has led to results we'd never have imagined.
Goodness, I did go on, didn't I? I think I need some spa time now!
Oh, and I can't wait to see the fabric sketches you do based on your very exciting drawings!